This is a retro-report. The ride took place in June 2018 but the story was written in December 2021. The GPX route below was our planned route.
It was probably late 2017 when myself and my good cycling buddy Charlie felt an urge to set a challenge which none of us had finished before. We knew it had to be on 2 wheels, we wanted it to be in the mountains, and we wanted to travel abroad with our bikes. From one search to another, we found exactly what we needed.
Tour Du Mont Blanc
Originally a hiking route around the massif of the the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe, covering a distance of roughly 160 kilometres with 10 kilometres of ascent/descent and passes through parts of Switzerland, Italy and France.
We did some research (as it turned out later it wasn't enough) and came up with an ambitious plan to complete our challenge in 3 days... Most guides/blogs suggest allowing at least 5 days, but there are stories about bikepackers completing it in 2 days too, so what could go wrong?!
Fast-forward half a year, a drive to Heathrow Airport with 2 mountain bikes, a flight to Geneva, a bus ride to Chamonix and a night out with drinks (yeah, a night out before the most extreme ride of your life, why not) me and Charlie are cycling down the road at 8:30am in the search of our only planned cable car lift from Les Hoches to Bellevue (1801 m).
We joined maybe 20 other cyclists on our way up, crumbling in a tiny cabin. It gave us more confidence that we're not alone in this madness - as we looked up and down some magnificent mountains which nobody with common sense would ever imagine to tackle on a bike.
You could feel the thrill of adventure in the air... These are the moments worth the living.
Here we go
First 10km was a blissful full-speed downhill section on a not too technical beaten track mixed with some quiet tarmac roads taking us to our first proper stop in Les Contamines-Montjoie. Some parts of this speedy descent set us off the ground, and the joy of smashing the distance with very little effort was exhilarating. We treated ourselves to some local cuisine at Restaurant Le Glacier - perfect spot for early lunch. From there everything started to go literally uphill.
There's no other way to conquer those hills on a saddle unless you're a super athlete. We hiked the majority of the next few kilometres. The scorching sun was not helping either. Then we entered a rock garden - unrideable section where the only logical way to get through was by carrying our bikes on our backs. If that wasn't enough, the higher we got the more snow we saw ahead. Not a great sign when you're wearing flat MTB shoes and your refuge is located behind a very sharp mountain ridge...
One step at a time
When we realised where we are and what's still in front of us, the sun was starting to set. It was getting cold quickly and spending a night under stars without any sleeping equipment would end really badly. We had no choice but to hike up a very slippery slope, digging our way through the snow with our feet, one step at a time, carrying are bikes and backpacks on our backs. This stuff is really not for the faint-hearted.
We made it to the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme just before they were shutting down the kitchen. We looked like a couple of zombies at that point so the refuge staff with no questions asked offered us some of the best food you can get so high up in the mountains (chunky beef goulash with pasta and green salad) and poured some lovely beer (Leffe) too. We were so tired we could barely lift the forks to mouths... But as we warmed up and shaken off the death-facing experience we were probably the happiest people on the planet.
Early start, quick breakfast and another epic descent down to Les Chapieux. That descent was one of many moments when I wished I had a dropper seatpost on my bike. And full suspension. And better skills. It was really steep, so we had to move slowly, especially that we met quite few hikers climbing up the hill. Some of them couldn't believe what we were doing.
Our target for the day was to get to Courmayeur before the lunch time. Ambitious, but doable. We only had to climb around 1000m up to Col de la Seigne, then down some 300m and up again similar height, after which would fly down to our lunch destination through a gorgeous Italian valley, easy-peasy.
There's no certainty; there's only adventure
Next time remember to bring sleighs
As one Italian wise man said "There's no certainty; there's only adventure". High five to that! The snow was holding its ground blocking us from riding bikes down the hill. Every few metres there were patches of snow/mud impossible to ride through. We lost a lot of time.
This section would be a bliss to ride if the winter let go earlier. We got to Courmayeur at around 4pm - way too late and a lot more tired than expected to continue with the original plan.
Our chances to go up another hill without an accident knowing what shape we were at were really thin. Mont Blanc is not a joke. I think we made a good decision to stop our adventure in Courmayeur and go back to Chamonix via tunnel by bus.
Back in Chamonix we thought it's best to just chill and take a little hike, grab few beers and gather our thoughts together. Although we didn't fully complete our challenge, we're still very pleased with the whole experience. The remarkable views, thrilling descents, demanding climbs and the fact we made it alive make up for the best extreme ride I ever had. And who knows... we may be back to finish it, Mont Blanc is not going anywhere.